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"Going Dark"--FBI Increasingly Can't Intercept Online Messages

Federal law enforcement and intelligence authorities are increasingly struggling to conduct court-ordered wiretaps on suspects because of a surge in chat services, instant messaging and other online communications that lack the technical means to be intercepted, reports the Washington Post. A large percentage of wiretap orders to pick up the communications of suspected spies and foreign agents are not being fulfilled, FBI officials said. Agents often decline even to seek orders when they know firms lack the means to tap into a suspect’s communications in real time. “It’s a significant problem, and it’s continuing to get worse,” said Amy Hess, executive assistant director of the FBI’s Science and Technology Branch.

One former U.S. official said that each year hundreds of individualized wiretap orders for foreign intelligence are not being fully executed because of a growing gap between the government’s legal authority and its practical ability to capture communications. FBI officials call the problem  “going dark.” Today, at least 4,000 U.S. companies provide some form of communication service, and a “significant portion” are not required by law to make sure their platforms are wiretap-ready, Hess said. Among the types of services that were unthinkable not long ago are photo-sharing services, which say they allow users to send photos that are automatically deleted, and peer-to-peer Internet phone calls, for which there are no practical means for interception.

 

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Deporting Immigrant Kids: Could U.S. Make Same Mistake Twice?

Violence, poverty, unemployment and U.S. immigration policy have all been blamed for the massive arrival of unaccompanied children from Central America at the U.S. southern border. The Washington Post says some experts and advocates suggest another factor: U.S. policies of the 1990s and 2000s that deported thousands of gang members back to Central America. Authorities were attempting to root out Latino gang violence in American cities. Instead of dispersing, the gangs took root in Central America, abetted by the push of drug-trafficking routes into Central America from Mexico.

The gangs grew more ruthless and expanded into international drug trade and other crimes, leading to escalating violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Critics of proposals to deport the new crop of youths warn that the U.S. risks making the same mistake twice, accelerating violence over the border by condemning those fleeing the gang explosion to become either gang members or victims. Not everyone agrees that the earlier deportations are a root of the crisis. Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington said that while deporting gang members from the U.S. may have contributed to the growth of gangs in Central America, the real problem was the U.S. failure to enforce the law against illegal immigrants, especially criminals, in the first place.

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Rep. Ryan Urges Flexibility On Mandatory Sentencing, Focus On Inmate Rehab

In his new reform plan "Expanding Opportunity in America," U.S. House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) focuses a chapter on criminal justice reforms, says the Sentencing Law and Policy blog. Ryan says that sentencing reform on the federal level could encourage state and local governments to follow the example. The punishment should fit the crime, but in many cases the punishment of incarceration extends beyond prison time, Ryan says.

Among reforms Ryan backs: Granting judges more flexibility within mandatory-minimum guidelines when sentencing non-violent drug offenders; implementing a risk- and needs-assessment system in federal prisons while expanding enrollment in rehabilitative programming to reduce recidivism; allowing non-violent and low-risk inmates to use enrollment to earn time off their prison stay towards prerelease custody. Reforms, Ryan says, "would give judges the discretion they need to prevent nonviolent offenders from serving unreasonably long sentences; they would align inmates’ incentives to help reduce recidivism; and they would partner with states and community groups to expand their life-affirming work."

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Federal Prisons Spend $36.5M In 4 Years On Mental Illness Medication

The federal prison system has spent more than $36.5 million on psychotropic drugs to treat thousands of offenders in four years, reports USA Today. Nearly 10 percent of the 216,000 inmates are receiving medications designed to treat an array of illnesses, from depression and bipolar disorder to acute schizophrenia. Government officials have raised questions about the costs of confining such large populations. Advocates for the mentally ill argue that prisons and jails have become the new repository for people with mental illness. The annual drug costs have been declining because of the increasing availability of generic medications, but the number of inmates being treated has remained steady.

Nearly 20,000 federal inmates are on psychotropic medications. About 25 percent of the Justice Department budget supports the BOP's operation. In an attempt to ease overcrowding, the U.S. Sentencing Commission last week approved a measure that would make nearly 50,000 inmates eligible for sentence reductions. Eric Young, national president of the federal prison employees union known as the Council of Prison Locals, said the number of inmates on medication likely represents only a fraction of those with a mental illness or behavioral disorders who have not been diagnosed or have elected not to take medication.

 

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Does AZ Execution Prove Death Penalty Is "Embarrassing Spectacle"?

The drawn-out execution of an Arizona man has set off more public debate over the death penalty and will lead to new court battles over states' efforts to keep details about their lethal-injection practices secret, the Wall Street Journal reports. The execution of Joseph R. Wood III on Wednesday in Florence, Az., took nearly two hours and was marked by lengthy, repeated bouts of labored breathing on the part of Wood. The 55-year-old was convicted of shooting to death his estranged girlfriend and her father in 1989.

It was at least the third lethal injection in the U.S. this year to raise significant questions about executions. Critics said the execution underscored systemic problems. "It's more evidence that the death penalty has become an embarrassing spectacle," said Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center. Others see such concerns as vastly overblown. "This was not a cruel execution," said Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty. "The execution carried out the judgment handed down by the legal system, and the inmate was sedated the whole time." (Arizona Corrections Director denied that the execution was botched, saying, "there is no medical or forensic evidence to date that supports that conclusion. In fact, the evidence gathered thus far supports the opposite," The Arizona Republic reports.)

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Albuquerque Agrees With DOJ On Independent Monitor For Police Reforms

Albuquerque and federal officials say there is an “urgency” to their negotiations to correct problems within the city's police department to help ease community tensions over police use of deadly force, the Albuquerque Journal reports. U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez and Mayor Richard Berry acknowledged as much yesterday in announcing that the Department of Justice and the city have formally agreed that an independent monitor will oversee implementation of any agreement reached on revamping the police.

The agreement will be filed and approved by a federal judge who will be able to enforce it if the police department fails to meet the requirements laid out in the document. “There certainly is an urgency here,” Berry said. “We are making great progress.”  The final agreement filed in court and overseen by an independent monitor will address use of force policies, interactions with individuals with mental illness and other disabiliies, tactical units, training, internal investigations and civilian complaints, and other issues. Department of Justice investigators reviewed 20 fatal shootings by Albuquerque police between 2009 and 2013 and found that in the majority of cases the level of force used was not justified because the person killed by police did not present a threat to police officers or the public.

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MA Prison Commissioner Fired Over Slowing Death Inquiry

Massachusetts prison commissioner Luis Spencer was forced to resign because he delayed an internal investigation into an incident at Bridgewater State Hospital, a prison already under fire for its response to a patient’s death at the hands of prison guards, the Boston Globe reports. Public Safety Secretary Andrea Cabral said the decision to ask for Spencer’s resignation was made in part because he “slowed down” the internal affairs inquiry, deepening earlier concerns about his “critical thinking and judgment” throughout his three-year tenure.

A source said the incident involved a correction officer who physically abused a mental health patient in late May. The patient survived the abuse. Cabral said, “This is not only about an incident. It has much more to do with the level of critical thinking and the approach we have to have from any commissioner.” Gov. Deval Patrick had reprimanded the state prison chief this year for failing to act on an internal report that cited three Bridgewater guards for misconduct in the 2009 death of patient Joshua Messier. Spencer will be replaced temporarily by Thomas Dickhaut, the acting deputy commissioner for prisons.

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PA Doctor Returns Fire On Psychiatric Patient Who Killed One, "Saved Lives"

Doctors are known for saving lives, but rarely do they do it with a gun. That's exactly what happened yesterday near Philadelphia when a psychiatrist returned fire on a patient who had shot him in the head and had fatally shot a caseworker in Yeadon, Pa., reports the Philadelphia Daily News. "Without a doubt, I believe the doctor saved lives," Yeadon Police Chief Donald Molineux said. "If he [the doctor] wasn't armed . . . this guy could have went out in the hallway and just walked down the offices until he ran out of ammunition."

The patient, Richard Plotts, 49, was brought to the center yesterday afternoon by his caseworker, Theresa Hunt, 53. Plotts, Hunt and the psychiatrist, Dr. Lee Silverman, met about 2 p.m. A worker in a nearby office heard them arguing, opened the door and saw Plotts pointing a gun at Silverman's head. That staffer quickly and quietly shut the door and called police. Moments later, shots rang out. A caseworker and a psychiatrist forced their way into the office and wrestled Plotts to the floor in the hallway, initially unaware that he was still armed. They disarmed Plotts and secured his weapon.

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Ex-MA Probation Chief Convicted Of Running Office Like Criminal Enterprise

John J. O’Brien, the disgraced former Massachusetts probation commissioner accused of corruption, was convicted yesterday in a sweeping verdict that found he ran the department like a criminal enterprise, handing out jobs to the politically powerful for his own personal benefit, the Boston Globe reports. His top aide, Elizabeth Tavares, 57, was convicted of aiding and abetting the scheme, and a deputy, William Burke III, 71, was found guilty of participating in a racketeering conspiracy.

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for 51 horurs over seven days before reaching the verdict, which one jurors said should serve as a “wake-up” to the state government. “After weeks of testimony, it became clear there was serious corruption in the practices of the Probation Department,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. O’Brien, 57, appeared to be trembling as the verdict was read. The defendants will appeal. One juror said the panel found political patronage was widespread in government, and that it occurred before O’Brien’s tenure. He said O’Brien committed a crime, however, by violating hiring procedures.

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TCR at a Glance

Merging Family and Drug Courts

new & notable July 25, 2014

London's court for parents who abuse drugs and alcohol uses specially-trained judges and multi-disciplinary teams, according to a report ...

Five Things About Deterrence

new & notable July 24, 2014

A National Institute of Justice flyer argues that the certainty of punishment, rather than severity, deters crime

The ‘War’ Against Whistleblowers

July 19, 2014

Hackers and free speech activists gather in New York to denounce what they call unprecedented government efforts to prosecute leakers